Of all the surprisingly large number of concerts, secret and otherwise, happening in the United States this month, one especially intriguing one is taking place this Sept 19. The Dakota String Quartet are playing a free concert at Good Earth State Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. There will be two sets, at 10:30 AM and noon. It’s not known what the program is, but the group have an enviable track record of rescuing rare repertoire. For those of you who use GPS, the street address is 26924 480th Ave. The show is free; be aware that South Dakota State Park tags are required for vehicles entering the space.
The quartet – violinists Magdalena Modzelewska and Doosook Kim, violist Yi-Chun Lin, and cellist Robert Erhard – are all members of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. This group explore some incredibly interesting, relatively unknown material. For example, they’ve advocated for brilliant/obscure Northern Plains composer Arthur Farwell. Check out their recording of his 1922 string quartet The Hako. Influenced by Lakota songs, it’s incredibly eerie, and decades ahead of its time with its bracing close harmonies, and lushness in contrast to an austere undercurrent.
Arts Journal called Farwell the American Bartok, which sounds ridiculously farfetched, but if you listen to Farwell’s music, that comparison isn’t as outrageous as it might seem. And his more minimalist moments prefigure the American movement that would crystallize around Philip Glass more than half a century later. For example, give a listen to the lithe, anthemic Farwell chorale Pawnee Horses, sung in Navajo.
To the extent that Farwell is even known today, there’s been a PC backlash which colors him as a cynical cultural appropriationist. A more reasoned appreciation would consider him an irrepressible cross-pollinator.
Longtime followers of this page may be wondering why, after almost nine years of advocating for live music in New York City, this blog would suddenly branch out to South Dakota. Most obviously, South Dakota has very strongly resisted the lockdowner insanity which has crushed the performing arts around the world this year. The state’s outspoken, pro-freedom governor, Kristi Noem gets huge props for staying strong in the face of what must be enormous pressure. Many music venues are open and currently hosting shows. This won’t be the last time you see “Great Faces, Great Places” on this page.